John Morrison Caie was a son of the manse, his father being the minister of Enzie, in Banffshire. He was born in Banchory-Devenick, Kincardine, attended school at Milne’s Institution in Fochabers, and went on to Aberdeen University and the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, arming himself with the qualifications for his chosen career in agriculture. From 1905 onward he lectured in the subject, first in Ireland and then in Perthshire and at Aberdeen University.
He joined the staff of the newly-formed Board of Agriculture for Scotland in 1912, becoming Assistant Secretary in 1918, and retained that post when the Board became the Department of Agriculture for Scotland in 1929, becoming Deputy Secretary in 1939. He was largely concerned with the education and research function of the Department, and the editing of its publications, and was mainly responsible for the departmental Scottish Journal of Agriculture.
Caie published two books of poetry in English and in Scots: The Kindly North of 1934 and ‘Twixt Hills and Sea in 1939, the latter with an introduction by Herbert Grierson. His personal and professional background in the rural North-East and in agricultural life gives an authenticity to poems about rural life in the area, as J. Derrick McClure notes in Language, Poetry and Nationhood: ‘farming life is a dominant theme of his poetry: but there is no idealisation of that life in the elegiac and often gloomy and fatalistic meditations which his characters conduct in a rich, authentic and skilfully-turned Doric.’
Just as adept are the short, dry verses of the ‘Cynical Observes’ that take a wry look at human failings – no doubt it was this sense of humour that contributed to his success as an after-dinner speaker:
A croon, a harp, a bonnie sang,
Wi’ naething tae dee but tak’ wir ease,
An’ still-an’-on we’re loath tae gyang –
Dod, but fowk’s gey ill tae please.
His much-loved poem about the vaunty frog, ‘The Puddock’, is still often set for children’s verse-speaking competitions.
J.M. Caie died in Aberdeen on 22 December 1949.